Pacing Your Energy
ADAPTIVE PACING TECHNIQUE
Put simply, pacing is knowing how long you can spend in a particular activity, and stopping when you have reached that point.
Sounds easy, but is very hard!
Pacing is difficult because it brings us face to face with our limitations. Often our mind wants to push our body beyond its current capacity. We get into the flow of an activity and don’t WANT to stop.
However , through experience and carefully noticing our responses to particular activities, we become aware of what we can manage. This is true for activities that we enjoy, as much as for activities that feel more like work.
The principle of pacing is to identify the physical positions or the tasks which consistently tend to flare-up your symptoms, or create tension and difficulty for you. Common examples of activities people find they need to pace would be; Walking, computer work , ironing, cooking, driving, as well as fun things like artwork, sewing or knitting !
The guidance is to record the amount of time you can spend in the activity before you begin to notice any adverse effects. Then you need to calculate 8o % of that maximum time. This is known as your baseline. The discipline is to only spend this amount of baseline time on the challenging activity! For example, if you know that you can work at the computer for 3o minutes before your back pain begins to trouble you, then
3o divided by 1oo and x 8o= 24 minutes
24 minutes is the longest time you can spend on the computer if you want to avoid flaring up your back pain.
At first this looks very tedious. However, if you do flare up your pain, you may need to stop, perhaps take more pain-killers and maybe even give up the job for the rest of the day! If you are disciplined, maybe even setting a timer, you can STOP, rest for a short spell, and then return to your work for another 24 minutes .You will actually achieve more!
This method is beautifully described by Vidyamala Birch., the author of ‘Living Well with Chronic Pain and Illness’. She has also written a little pamphlet on pacing called ‘The mindfulness of daily life’.
Vidyamala lives with chronic pain after a spinal injury over 3o years ago. She has led a full and successful life, and uses pacing or ‘mindful rhythm’ to manage her difficult symptoms. In fact she has written several books in 2o minute chunks.
You can find out more about her work on:-
Obviously some tasks are not easy to stop once you have started. If you are working the pace you are require to work at may be outside your control. Doing a big supermarket shop, or driving long distances can be difficult to interrupt. But, as best as possible, become aware of your baselines and do your best to adapt your activities to respect the, finding creative ways to take a break.
Using the ‘Breathing Space’ , ‘Heartmath’ or even just scanning for and releasing tension can help when you are not free to stop.
Ultimately, when you are comfortable with your ability to pace, you may be able to raise your baselines. This will depend on the nature of your health difficulty. If you are keen to try, it is important to increase by no more than 2o % at a time, and only when you are sure that you are feeling well.
SOME CASE HISTORIES
Pacing is not easy. Here are a few example of how to apply the principles in a way that might help you see how to work within your own circumstances.
MARY, is 57 and has Fibromyalgia.
When filling in the activity diary Mary noticed that during the week she rarely goes out, except to the local shop for odds and ends. She looks after her 3 year old grandson after playgroup on Tuesdays from 12 – 5 pm. Generally she tries to get all her jobs done in the morning, and sleeps for a variable time most afternoons, making dinner for her husbands return from work. Then they watch TV for most of the evening. On Saturday morning Mary and her husband do the shopping for the week in the local supermarket. Then she goes into town with her sister, and they go around the shops and for a coffee. She tends to be in bed for most of Sunday morning.
She struggles with fatigue and aching muscles-the pain is predominantly around her neck and shoulders but is variable from day to day. Her sleep is broken and unrefreshing.
What could Mary try?
Mary tends to be most active in the morning. She sleeps most but not every afternoon for a variable length of time , and has a major burst of activity on Tuesday afternoon and all day Saturday. She tends to crash on Sundays.
ELIZABETH-is 46 struggles with chronic fatigue and works part-time.
Elizabeth works on Tuesday Wednesday and Friday. She knows that she tends to crash on Wednesdays and at the weekends, hoping that if she rests she will have enough energy to get through her work days. She does her household jobs on Mondays, and throughout the weekend, but never feels on top of anything. She realises that she uses coffee and sugary snacks to keep herself going.
What could Elizabeth try?
GORDON- is 52 and has high blood pressure.
He struggles with Stress and Fatigue.
Gordon works full time. He comes home form work and needs to sleep for an hour before he can get up and have something to eat. He works as a financial advisor in a busy office, and rarely stops for lunch. He feels as if he is on a hamster-wheel, stressed and exhausted most of the time.
What could Gordon try?
JENNIFER, is 32 and is recovering from glandular fever.
Jennifer is very keen to rebuild her previous fitness. She is struggling with her return to work as a primary school teacher, and tends to catch any bug that is going around the school. She goes to the gym on Wednesdays after work with her friend, and goes to an aerobics class, followed by a swim for about 3o minutes. She is exhausted afterwards and finds Thursday a challenge, occasionally having to take the day off.
What could Jennifer try?
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